Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Queen of Peace wins regional despite Shimko's banishment

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo by Jeff Vorva

Queen of Peace coach George Shimko watches his team beat King Thursday night for the Class 3A regional title from a stage area in the gym. Shimko was suspended for the postseason for not having enough players at a JV game in January.


Figuratively speaking, Queen of Peace girls basketball coach George Shimko is in the Cook County lockup for getting a parking ticket.

The Illinois High School Association bounced him out of the Class 3A postseason tournament for a rules violation that has some scratching their heads.

The Pride, a team with nine players and no seniors on the varsity roster, played a junior varsity game against Guerin at Concordia University on Jan 17. The IHSA said that you need at least 10 players suited up for a JV game or it counts on your varsity record.

So it counted on the Pride’s varsity record and the team went one game over the limit and Shimko, who is also the school’s athletic director, was suspended from coaching in the postseason.

Shimko appealed to the IHSA officials and said it was a mistake and he didn’t know the rule.

That didn’t matter.

The coach pleaded that they were not cheating or trying to gain any competitive edge for seeding because they didn’t count the game in their record.

That didn’t matter either.

When Shimko did find an IHSA rule that would allow the waving of a punishment due to an error?

“They told me they were being lenient with me,” Shimko said. “They said the whole team could have been removed from the postseason.’’

Geez. That would have been really harsh.

This suspension is harsh, too.

If a coach is going to get a postseason ban, make it for something good, like illegally bringing in a 7-footer from another country or bringing in some 30-point-a-game stud and doctoring up her grades. Something a little more juicy than playing a JV game with nine athletes.

And think of this—if the seeds hold true, the Pride will play four postseason games. Putting it in a bigger picture, that’s two more games that NFL player Ray Rice was originally sentenced to for assaulting his girlfriend.

To me, a one-game suspension or even a warning would have been fair for Shimko. But the IHSA saw it differently and Shimko was banned from coaching last week’s regional victories over Perspectives-Calumet and King. He was allowed to be in the gym and, to the IHSA’s credit, he was allowed to take photos with his team after winning the regional title Thursday night and help cut down the nets. So there was some joy to be had for the third-year coach.

Losing a coach can be a jolt for some teams but the Pride was able to prosper. The keys have been handed over to assistant coach Mike Landstrom, a 25-year-old with a unique basketball background.

The 6-foot-8 Oak Lawn native said he played just one season – his senior year – at Marist High School and tried to walk on at St. Xavier University. He earned some scholarship money for hoops his sophomore and junior seasons. He started coaching youth teams when he was in high school and now has been thrust into the pressure cooker of postseason basketball with a team that earned the No. 2 team in the De La Salle Sectional.

“Honestly, I’m looking at this like it’s a great opportunity,” Landstrom said. “Our whole (assistant) coaching staff is rather young. It’s an opportunity for us to step up our game.

“We had the foundation set from the beginning. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it going. It’s been a little more challenging, but I like it. It’s a good time.’’

Landstrom admits that being the man all the players’ eyes are on during a game was something he had to get used to.

“The first game, I was not used to it and when we were coming into the timeouts, I kept looking at (fellow assistant coach Alex Shimko) and he looked at me and we were like ‘who is supposed to bring in the huddle?’ ’’ Landstrom said.

So the Pride moved on to the sectional semifinals with their coach watching near the stage area of his gym instead of his customary spot on the bench. This week is going to be a little tougher with a potential battle with Bogan looming Thursday in the sectional final.

Shimko will be somewhere in the De La Salle gym cheering his team on.

And while he does not relish the idea of being away from his team during games, he probably wouldn’t mind being stuck in the stands and watching Landstrom coach March 4 and 5 at the state tournament in Normal.



Oak Lawn dismisses firefighter for alleged phone sex calls

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Following an investigation into allegations of misused funds and phone sex while on duty, Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets decided Monday to terminate Robert Lanz for “violations of multiple departmental rules and regulations” according to a press release issued by the village.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen said last month that Sheets undertook the investigation after a financial review by an outside firm called in by the Oak Lawn Firefighters Union “substantiated reports that there was a misuse of large sums of money” by an individual over the past year.

The fact that Lanz, a former head of Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Local 3405, was being investigated for possibly calling phone-sex hotlines while on duty came to light at a Dec. 17 hearing in Bridgeview Courthouse on a petition for an emergency restraining order that Lanz filed.

Lanz had sought the restraining order, which a judge denied, after Sheets asked him to produce his credit card and cellphone records in order to get to the bottom of the discrepancies. Sheets then made his decision after interviewing Lanz on Jan. 7.

“The Oak Lawn firehouses are not places for reckless animal house behavior,” said Sheets.

“While we are on duty, firefighters are expected to devote their full attention to the needs of the community. Mr. Lanz’s conduct fell far short of that expectation and he is no longer an Oak Lawn employee,” said Sheets in the statement issued Monday.

Sheets had originally planned to interrogate Lanz on Dec. 18 but Lanz’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, argued at the hearing that Lanz was given less than two weeks to schedule the interview date, and his union representation would not have been available.

The fire chief also said Monday that there was evidence that Lanz repeatedly lied during the investigation.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury expressed support for Sheets’ decision to fire Lanz.

“Consideration for resident safety made this difficult decision a simple one,” she said. “When our loved ones are most vulnerable, we must have confidence that those attending to their emergency needs are focused on the task at hand.”

“Residents must respect and trust their first responders, and the conduct exhibited by Mr. Lanz greatly diminishes that trust. It also diminishes the reputation of those who do maintain high standards of integrity and ethical conduct,” said the mayor.

Lanz and Union Local 3405 have filed a grievance challenging the termination, which village officials have said they will fight if it goes to arbitration.

“We hope that the Union says in a loud, clear voice, ‘we will not accept this type of behavior in the firehouse.’ But if the union does proceed to arbitration, the village is prepared to fully defend Chief Sheets’ decision,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen in a statement.

Citing “a long pattern of reckless animal house behavior,” village officials pointed out that in 2010, the village paid $1.8 million to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a female member of the fire department after semen was found on her bedding.

Deetjen said that a security firm was hired at that time, and found three computers installed in firehouses without the authorization of the village IT department, and inappropriate material was found on them.

“The current administration is committed to eradicating this type of behavior from the workplace,” said Deetjen.



Evergreen Park, Chicago files lawsuit against CSX

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The village of Evergreen Park and the city of Chicago have taken legal action against CSX Transportation, Inc., seeking sanctions against the railroad company for repeatedly blocking grade crossings – the intersections of railway lines and roads -- along the Elsdon railroad line in violation of federally imposed requirements.

“The little guys need a voice. I guess it is time for us to speak up,” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton on Monday, during a meeting with Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), as well as a couple of 19th Ward residents who live between the heavily used railroad crossings on the Elsdon Line at 103rd and 111th Streets on Sacramento Avenue in the city.

Five railroad crossing pass through Evergreen Park too, including two close by, at 94th and Kedzie and 95th and Sacramento, where trains can tie up traffic on two major roads at the same time.

The group met to discuss the issue with attorneys from Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell in Washington, D.C., who have been enlisted to file a formal petition with the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that reviews proposed railroad mergers and resolves railroad rate and service disputes, in order to remedy the serious harmful effects created by CSX’s operations along the Elsdon Line.

The petition filed Monday seeks a number of potential remedies, including the imposition of sanctions, including fines; continued monitoring; and additional auditing.

All the politicians and the residents agreed that CSX is not living up to the commitments it made when it was allowed to take over the Elsdon Line in 2013.

Burke pointed out that CSX promised in 2013 that trains would pass through the area without stopping and blocking intersections, but that has not been the case.

The attorneys involved, Allison Fultz and Chuck Spitulnik, thanked the Evergreen Park police for documenting the number of blockages, sometimes100 a year, that have caused problems in the village.

“Typically, there are a lot of anecdotal evidence and vague complaints. For a community to be very specific, and detailed, is a rare opportunity for us,” said Fultz.

The residents, John Jacob and Colette Wagner, have also filmed instances where trains block intersections for so long that children on their way to school have climbed over and under the stopped trains, risking serious injury if they started moving.

Another major concern raised is the possibility of lives being put in danger if ambulances are stopped by trains on 95th Street, heading to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park or Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Jacob also pointed to asthma and other health issues caused by residents breathing diesel fumes for extended periods of time as well.

For their part, CSX officials have stated that they have improved the infrastructure on the line since taking over.

Burke and Cunningham said they tried to address the issue at the state level, but courts found that municipalities could not fine railroads so the decision was made to take it to the federal level. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), who wasn’t at the meeting, was also credited with trying to find a solution in Springfield.

“Ever since CSX secured the right to operate on this track, residents have told us that trains along the Elsdon Line routinely cause lengthy delays that not only inconvenience residents but threaten public safety by blocking access to area hospitals,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

“For the past three years, we have tried to work cooperatively with CSX to address the many public safety and quality of life issues their takeover of the Elsdon line created for our community,” said O’Shea. “Unfortunately, we have very little to show for that effort and are now forced to take more serious action.”

"For too long, CSX has ignored their own promises to operate a safe and efficient rail line in our community," said Cunningham, describing their statements as “demonstrably false.”

A legal review of CSX’s quarterly reports indicates that the railroad has admitted that it has not fully complied with the 2013 requirements as a condition of its receiving approval to operate on this line. In fact, the railroad has cut only one train over the past three years.

Precedent exists for the Board to impose significant penalties on CSX. For instance, in a 2007 case against Canadian National Railroad in connection with its operations in the Chicago area, STB fined the railroad $250,000 for violating obligations similar to those binding CSX.

“We have fired the opening salvo,” said Fultz, regarding the complaint filed with the Surface Transportation Board on Monday.

CSX now has 21 days to respond.

But Fultz said that it will likely be months before there is any resolution.

“If CSX would just comply with what they agreed to in 2013, we would be in great shape,” she said.

But the officials said that if there is no accommodation made, fines amounting to millions of dollars could be assessed.

Moraine Board might increase tech and tuition because of budget stalemate

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

The Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of raising technology and tuition rates to help offset the ongoing budget stalemate in Springfield.

The board made the proposal during a meeting held Saturday morning at the Palos Hills campus. A vote may be taken as early as next month.

Dr. Sylvia M. Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College, said that the school is in good shape. However, the problems that are affecting other local colleges are real, added Jenkins.

“We are there right now,” she said. “Some colleges will have to close programs and some teachers will have to be let go.”

Jenkins said she recently talked to two local legislators about where this is all leading to in terms of negotiations in Springfield. She was not encouraged by their response.

“Right now, it seems pessimistic” she said. “Currently, we are OK. But Moraine maybe OK today but that can change.”

Jenkins added that a bill sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) to provide for funding for colleges and universities was vetoed by Gov. Rauner. Robert Sterkowitz, board treasurer, provided an overview of the Moraine’s financial situation and how they are managing with no funding from the state.

“We have been preparing for this for a while,” said Sterkowtiz. “We didn’t want to go there, but we are getting there.”

The treasurer said that funding could be shifted to provide more revenue sources in the short term.

“The problem with that is that we have allotted money for a budget over a few years, “said Joseph Murphy, chairman of the Moraine Board. “Now because we have to move the funding around it makes it more difficult to make decisions on our budget later on.”

Murphy said a tuition hike was inevitable.

“A tuition increase was necessary,” said Murphy. “Everybody keeps asking me about (funding for) rainy days. Well, now it’s kind of pouring.”

Sterkowitz said that he anticipated the college will spend $3 million less than the $95 million that was approved, unless a budget settlement occurs. In the interim, Sterkowitz said Moraine will be able to manage despite the budget shortfall.

“We don’t want to be just another local community college,” said Sterkowitz. “We have a lot of offer. We have a large amount of online classes.”

Sterkowitz said the FY2016 budget for Moraine is $95,237,029. The estimated 2017 budget is $93,845,502, if no settlement can be reached. The estimated figures for 2018 are $95,908,357, and for 2019 the figures are $97,097,413, according to Sterkowitz. The 2020 estimated budget is $98,309,575.

“The main issue is state funding,” said Sterkowitz. “State colleges beginning the fiscal year could see a 30 percent reduction in state funding.”

Sterkowitz added that waivers are applied to the the top 11 percent of high school graduates who maintain a 3.5 grade point average. Scholarships are also provided for student-athletes.

“We make cuts every day,” said Sterkowitz. “But there is only so much you can cut.”

Some colleges have closed their childcare center due to the lack of funding, which is something Jenkins would like to avoid.

“The problem with that is that students who have children in childcare centers that close end up dropping out of school,” said Jenkins. “We don’t want to do that.”

Moraine can hold a maximum of 72 children in their childcare facility. The state has reduced funding for the centers by 30 percent in 2016.

“We want to keep it affordable because we have had the governor make some changes,” said Jenkins. “Some students who once qualified for childcare funding no longer qualify.”

Jenkins did add that the 30 percent reduction figures are just an estimate.

“You’ve seen what seven and a half months has done to some schools,” said Sterkowitz. “If this goes on for another year, some schools will shut down.”

The meeting began with a presentation by Kam Sanghvi, who co-chairs the Strategic Technology Plan. Sanghvi argued for the $3 increase for technology. Sanghvi said that costs continue to rise and WiFi improvements have to be made.

“Our hope is that students can access information through WiFi off campus,” said Sanghvi. “The students’ major complaint is WiFi.”

Murphy said that teachers need additional training. Sanghvi said that various levels training are available on a one-one-one basis.

Murphy said that technology is expensive but teachers and students cannot afford to fall back. The board, after some debate over costs, stated that they tentatively would approve a $3 hike from $7 to $10 for each semester for technological studies.

Board members also mentioned that the Learning Management System Review team recommended that Canvas by Instructure replace the existing Blackboard Learn web system. The board was in agreement that Canvas would best meet the current needs of the students, faculty, staff and campus community. The board approved using Canvas at their November meeting.

Oak Lawn fire and police departments battle in ‘supermarket sweep’

  • Written by By Kelly White

The Oak Lawn fire and police departments are usually fighting fires and enforcing the law, respectively. However, the first responders recently competed against each other in a friendly rivalry at an unexpected location – a supermarket.

This year marked the 16th Annual Food Checkout Day sponsored by the Cook County Farm Bureau, Country Financial and Jewel-Osco. To honor the day, the friendly Supermarket Sweep style competition took place at Jewel-Osco, 9424 S. Pulaski Road, Oak Lawn. The firefighter and police teams collected packaged goods and kitchen products for families at all five Ronald McDonald Houses located in the Chicago area on Feb. 9.

“Jewel-Osco is a wonderful host and the scavenger hunt is such a fun addition to the day thanks to the Oak Lawn Fire and Police departments for participating in the friendly competition,” publicist Megan Reidy said.

Broken into two teams, the fire department was led by Chris Ward and the police department was led by Sgt. Jim Pacetti.

Each team received a list of clues for the scavenger hunt, which hinted toward items the Ronald McDonald House really needs. The teams then raced through the store gathering the needed items as fast as they can. The more correct items collected, the more points the team received.

Both teams were assisted by members of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood, who aided in the pushing of the shopping carts through the hectic aisles.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) also made an appearance to cheer on the departments.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department has won the supermarket sweep the past three years. The fire department took home a fourth title, defeating the Oak Lawn Police Department in the six-minute race for food items throughout the grocery store.

Jewel-Osco hosted the fun and fierce competition to benefit families at the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital. Food Checkout Day highlights the safe and nutritious food grown by local farmers while also drawing attention to those families who struggle to find solutions to feeding their families healthy food on a tight budget.

Through Farm Bureau’s partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana (RMHC-CNI), Cook County Farm Bureau members are able to assist families during the most difficult time of their lives, when their child is ill, by holding a huge food drive to support all five Ronald McDonald Houses located in the Chicago area.

“Food Checkout Day, led by the Cook County Farm Bureau, brings the community together in support of families at RMHC-CNI,” Reidy said.

The scavenger hunt was inspired to have quick and healthy food available for families in need and home cooked meals are provided by volunteer groups at each of the five Chicago area Ronald McDonald Houses, according to Reidy.

Prior to the event, the local community collected many everyday items, including bottled water, coffee, creamer, cereal, individually wrapped cookies and snack and quick meals, mac and cheese, canned soups, granola bars, and peanut butter and jelly. This allows families the flexibility to grab and go with food items, so they have the energy and strength they need to be their best for their children at the hospital.

A post-event dinner was held at the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital located at 4410 W. 93rd St., Oak Lawn, where 16 families currently staying at the house enjoyed a delicious dinner.

All food collected during the event went directly to the Ronald McDonald House.